Monday, January 23, 2017

Postcards from the Edge




Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Carrie Fisher that is based on her autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge is the story of a recovering drug-addicted actress who is forced to move back in with her boozy mother, who is also an entertainer, as she copes with her own troubled life and her turbulent relationship with her mother. The film is a fictionalized-take on Fisher’s own real-life relationship with her own mother Debbie Reynolds as well as her own substance abuse. Starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Quaid, Richard Dreyfuss, Simon Callow, Annette Bening, Rob Reiner, and Gene Hackman. Postcards from the Edge is a witty and delightful film from Mike Nichols.

The film follows the turbulent love-hate relationship between a troubled actress and her boozy mother as the former has just recovered from a drug overdose where she is forced to move back home with her mother for insurance reasons or else she couldn’t work again. It’s a film that play into this troubled mother-daughter relationship between two women in the world of entertainment as the singer/actress/entertainer Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine) is a woman that has a lot of connections and such but is in denial over her alcoholism. Doris’ daughter Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) is an actress that has been trying to step out of her mother’s shadow but has become a liability due to her drug abuse. Carrie Fisher’s screenplay doesn’t just play into the turmoil over this relationship but also two women who do care for each other but often bring the worst in each other.

Fisher’s script isn’t just filled with some witty dialogue that are quite memorable but also in the way Suzanne and Doris deal with their own situations. Much of the film is about Suzanne as it opens with her on a film set obviously under the influence and then the next morning be seen overdosing on a mixture of pills and drugs as she is dropped off by a one-night stand. It sets the course of Suzanne being forced into rehab as she tries to embrace sobriety yet she realizes what she has to do while also starring in a low-budget film just so that she can keep working. It become a series of humiliations that she has to endure though she would find some solace in dating a producer named Jack Faulkner (Dennis Quaid) but Doris doesn’t think he’s good news. Doris is just as interesting as she’s from the old school but has very little clue of what she does to Suzanne as it is clear she wants the attention but it only makes Suzanne very insecure.

Mike Nichols’ direction is quite simple in some respects yet it does have some elements of style starting with the film’s opening tracking shot that is essentially part of a film shoot that Suzanne is in as it goes on for a few minutes. Shot largely in Los Angeles and at some studio lots, the film does play into the high-octane world of Hollywood where there is so much expectations out there. While Nichols’ usage of close-ups and medium shots help play into moments that are intimate as well as in some of the dramatic moments. Nichols’ wide shots do play into that world of Hollywood from Suzanne’s homecoming party to what goes on at a film set and some of the scenes set on certain locations such as Faulkner’s lavish home. Nichols’ approach to comedy is quite low-key yet he always finds a way to keep things lively whether it’s in a few musical numbers or moments that has Suzanne in a humiliating moment and reacting to her situation. The dramatic moments are just as important as it play into Suzanne trying to make sense of why she’s so screwed up as well as confronting her mother about who she is and such. Overall, Nichols creates a riveting and engaging film about the tumultuous relationship between an entertainer and her recovering daughter.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s largely straightforward for many of the daytime interior/exterior scenes with some lighting for some of the studio interior shots and for the scenes at night. Editor Sam O’Steen does brilliant work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some rhythmic cutting to play into the comedy and some of the drama. Production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, with set decorator Chris Butler and art director Kandy Stern, does fantastic work with the design of some of the Hollywood sets and how fake they look in low-budget films as well as the home where Doris lives in. Costume designer Ann Roth does nice work with the costumes from the posh clothing of Doris to the more casual look of Suzanne which both play into their personalities.

Hair stylist/makeup artist J. Roy Helland, with additional work by Greg Cannom does terrific work with the look of some of the characters with Cannom doing personal work for the character of Doris. Sound editor Stan Bochner does superb work with the sound as it play into the world of film as well as the moments in Suzanne‘s homecoming party. The film’s music by Carly Simon is wonderful as it‘s a mixture of low-key piano and orchestral music while music supervisor Howard Shore help provide a few score pieces of his own as well a selection of tunes that include a couple of standards as well as a song for the film’s ending.

The casting by Ellen Lewis and Juliet Taylor is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Dana Ivey as a wardrobe mistress, C.C.H. Pounder as a rehab supervisor, Robin Bartlett as Suzanne’s roommate in rehab, Oliver Platt as an associate producer who is concerned about Suzanne’s performance, Rob Reiner as a film producer who tells Suzanne that she needs to prove that she’s sober, Gary Morton as a studio executive who tells Suzanne that she needs to live with her mother for duration of the film shoot, Simon Callow as Suzanne’s new filmmaker who isn’t sure if Suzanne will be reliable, and Richard Dreyfuss in a superb small role as a doctor who would save Suzanne’s life after her overdose. Conrad Bain and Mary Wickes are fantastic as Doris’ parents with Wickes being hilarious as the mother who says some very funny shit throughout the film.

Annette Bening is wonderful in her one-scene performance as an actress co-starring in Suzanne’s film who would reveal some startling information relating to Faulkner. Gene Hackman is excellent as filmmaker Lowell Kolchek as a director who works with Suzanne early in the film as he is someone that cares about her but knows she is messed up where he is more sympathetic to her plight. Dennis Quaid is brilliant as Jack Faulkner as a film producer who is the one-night stand that Suzanne was with but doesn’t know as he is a guy full of charm but there is something off about him that only Doris knows. Finally, there’s the duo of Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Suzanne Vale and Doris Mann. Streep provides that sense of fragility and humility into her performance as a woman who is really fucked-up and is trying to recover but is having a hard time trying to find the root of her issues. MacLaine’s performance as Doris is someone that exudes charisma as well as be someone that likes to over-talk and such. Streep and MacLaine together are a marvel to watch in the way they deal with other from the arguments to trying to one-up each other.

Postcards from the Edge is an incredible film from Mike Nichols that features sensational performances from Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Along with Carrie Fisher’s intense screenplay, a fantastic supporting cast, and some very funny moments. It’s a film that doesn’t just play into the dysfunctions of a mother-daughter relationship but also dealing with expectations and identity. In the end, Postcards from the Edge is a spectacular film from Mike Nichols.

Mike Nichols Films: (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) - (The Graduate) - (Catch-22) - Carnal Knowledge - (The Day of the Dolphin) - (The Fortune) - (Gilda Live) - (Silkwood) - (Heartburn) - (Biloxi Blues) - Working Girl - (Regarding Henry) - (Wolf (1994 film)) - The Birdcage - (Primary Colors) - (What Planet Are You From?) - (Wit) - (Angels in America) - Closer (2004 film) - (Charlie Wilson’s War)

© thevoid99 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Legend (2015 film)




Based on the novel The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Legend is the story of twin brothers who become infamous criminals in the 1950s/1960s as they would rise big and later fall. Written for the screen and directed by Brian Helgeland, the film is a look into the rise and fall of the twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were infamous for their exploits in the world of crime as they’re both portrayed by Tom Hardy. Also starring Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Duffy, Paul Bettany, Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald, and Chazz Palminteri. Legend is a gripping yet stylish film from Brian Helgeland.

Set mainly in 1960s London, the film is the simple story of the rise and fall of the twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray who were the most dangerous and richest gangsters in all of London as they ran casinos and clubs to great heights. Yet, it is told by someone who knew the Krays in their rise as she would eventually become Reggie’s wife in Frances Shea (Emily Browning) where she would also see their fall in the late 1960s. Brian Helgeland’s screenplay is quite straightforward though it is largely told from Frances’ perspective in her voiceover narration yet it play into the Krays who may look alike and have violent tendencies but they’re both very different. Reggie is more organized as he also craves for a simpler and more straight life driven by his love for Frances while Ronnie is the more unstable of the two as he is mentally-ill and unpredictable as well as be openly-gay.

The script also play into the conflict where Frances often find herself in the middle as she represents the one person that can give Reggie a life away from crime which is something Ronnie doesn’t want. Ronnie wants to be a full-time criminal and stick to anyone that goes against them yet Reggie wants to maintain some control and make some money. Once their rise progresses, Reggie would eventually realize that Ronnie is a liability as he struggles to be a husband to Frances but also to watch over his brother. Still, Reggie wouldn’t expect how far Ronnie would play into their downfall.

Helgeland’s direction is simple at times but also quite stylish in some respects as it definitely captures the world of 1960s London where it is shot on location in the city as well as part of the East End area of the city. Much of Helgeland’s compositions in the wide and medium shots are simple to establish the locations yet he doesn’t shy away from how brutal some of the violence was back then. Helgeland would also create some element of style such as a sequence where Reggie has his first date with Frances where he would create this long tracking shot sequence in one take where Reggie would go to the back of a club to deal with business and then return to Frances. It is an inventive moment while there are elements of style that play into the world of 1960s club world where the people of power, wealth, and celebrity would hang out with gangsters as there is a sense of cool in that. When the film reaches its third act where it begins with a chilling moment of violence, it does play into this fall where it’s not just about a lack of control for Reggie but also Ronnie becoming more unruly as the film becomes more grim with the inevitable finally coming into play. Overall, Helgeland creates a mesmerizing and stylish film about the rise and fall of the Kray brothers.

Cinematographer Dick Pope does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the way some of the daytime exteriors look as well as the lighting for many of the interior scenes set in the day at the pubs or at night for the clubs. Editor Peter McNulty does nice work with the editing as it is stylish with its rhythmic cuts to play into some of the action and violence while providing moments that doesn‘t stray into conventional fast-cutting. Production designer Tom Conroy, with set decorator Crispian Sallis and supervising art director Patrick Rolfe, does fantastic work with the design of the sets from the look of the clubs as well as the pubs and the homes that the characters live in. Costume designer Caroline Harris does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes of the men to the stylish dresses that Frances wears.

Hair/makeup designer Christine Blundell does terrific work with the hairstyles that the men had at the time as well as the array of hairstyles that Frances had. Visual effects supervisor Adam Rowland does some fine work with the visual effects which is mainly bits of set dressing and a few moments in the violence. Sound editor Dominic Gibbs and sound designer Ben Meecham do superb work with the sound from the way some of the violence is presented as well as the atmosphere of the clubs and social places the characters go to. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is wonderful for its mixture of lush orchestral music with some 60s style pop and rock music while music supervisors Liz Gallacher and Kirsten Lane create a fun soundtrack that feature a lot of the music of the times from Booker T. and the M.G.s, the Meters, Herbie Hancock, the Rockin’ Berries, Herman’s Hermits, Billy Preston, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Burt Bacharach, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, and Duffy.

The casting by Lucinda Syson is incredible as it feature some notable small roles from John Sessions as a British lord that Ronnie would befriend, Aneurin Barnard as the famed photographer David Bailey, Sam Spruell as the incompetent associate of the brothers in Jack McVitie, Adam Fogerty as the Krays’ muscle Big Pat, Kevin McNally as the then-British prime minister Harold Wilson who has a problem with the Krays, Jane Wood and Jon McKenna as the parents of the Krays, Paul Anderson as Reggie’s lieutenant Albert, and Tara Fitzgerald in a wonderful small roles as Frances and Frank’s mother who doesn’t like the Krays. Colin Morgan is terrific as Frances’ brother Frank who is also a driver for the Krays while Paul Bettany is superb in a small role as a rival gang leader from South London in Charlie Richardson.

Chazz Palminteri is excellent as American mob figure Angelo Bruno who makes a deal with the Krays while giving Reggie some advice about laying low as well as what to do when family becomes a liability. Taron Egerton is fantastic as Ronnie’s right-hand man Mad Teddy who could possibly be Ronnie’s lover as he is quite psychotic but also prove to be loyal to the Krays. Christopher Eccleston is brilliant as Leonard “Nipper” Read as a detective hell-bent on nabbing the Krays any way he can while he would also deal with humility and the need for redemption. David Thewlis is amazing as Leslie Payne as the Krays’ business manager who tries to assure them what they can do and can’t do while making Ronnie paranoid.

Emily Browning is remarkable as Frances Shea as a woman who meets and falls for Reggie Kray as she understands what he does but still loves him know he can do good but becomes overwhelmed by his focus on the business and Ronnie’s behavior. Finally, there’s Tom Hardy in a phenomenal dual performance as the twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray where Hardy provides some distinctive ideas for the characters. In Reggie, Hardy is more restrained and charming but also can be quite brutal at times where Hardy plays it cool. As Ronnie, Hardy puts on a more warped physicality to his performance as well as wear glasses and have more of an accent than Reggie as he is very dangerous but also quite comical as it’s really a tour-de-force performance for Hardy.

Legend is a sensational film from Brian Helgeland that features an incredible performance from Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Along with a fantastic supporting cast, cool music soundtrack, and a fascinating premise, it’s a film that explores the world of the British gangsters in the 1960s and the struggle between two brothers in their own different ambitions. In the end, Legend is a marvelous film from Brian Helgeland.

Brian Helgeland Films: (Payback) - A Knight's Tale - (The Order) - (42)

© thevoid99 2017

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Junun




Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Junun is a documentary film that follows Radiohead guitarist/composer Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, and the Rajasthan Express making an album at Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India. It’s a film that follows the creative process into making a record featuring a few outsiders who know little about the traditional music of India. The result is a fascinating and engrossing film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

Shot through digital camcorders and a drone belong to music producer Nigel Godrich in early 2015, the film follows the making of an album produced by Godrich that features Jonny Greenwood and Shye Ben Tzur making an album with the Rajasthan Express at the Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India. There, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and a small crew would capture the recording process as well as what musicians had to do when there’s no electricity or running water during the process as it’s something Greenwood, Godrich, and Tzur would deal with. Yet, it would only inspire them even more as they become in tune with the local musicians and the location itself.

With Anderson, Godrich, and a few others serving as the camera operators throughout the film, they showcase this unique world where the fort is on top of a mountain. Anderson would use the drone for some unique aerial shots to capture the city of Rajasthan as it has these gorgeous wide shots while he would go for medium shots to capture the performance where he would have a camera in the middle of the circle to capture all of the musicians playing. Some of it would be in long takes while Anderson with the help of editor Andy Jurgensen would create edits that play into the music as well as how they would build a studio in the fort. Sound mixer Christopher Scarabosio would help capture the recording process and how Godrich would mix the music with the vocals recorded at one session and the music for another on a few tracks. The music in the film is a major highlight as its mixture of traditional Indian music with horns and electric guitars from Greenwood and Tzur create something that is just intoxicating and exciting to listen to.

Junun is a marvelous film from Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s an engaging documentary film that captures not just a unique world outside of modern society but also the music and how vibrant it is in an era that expects everyone to keep up with the times. In the end, Junun is a remarkable film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

P.T. Anderson Films: Hard Eight - Boogie Nights - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Inherent Vice - (Untitled P.T. Anderson Fashion Project)

Related: The Shorts & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson

© thevoid99 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: Swing Time




Based on the story Portrait of John Garnett by Erwin S. Gelsey, Swing Time is the story of a gambler who tries to win over his fiancĂ©e’s father by making it as a dancer when he finds himself falling for his own dance partner. Directed by George Stevens and screenplay by Howard Lindsay and Allan Scott, the film is a musical that explores a man trying to prove his worth as well as get caught up into his own ideas of romance. Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Eric Blore, and Georges Metaxa. Swing Time is an enchanting and evocative film from George Stevens.

The film is a simple story of a man whose gambling problem forces him to travel to New York City to settle his debts and prove himself worthy of marrying his fiancĂ©e where he works as part of a dance duo with another dancer whom he would fall for. It’s a film that play into a man who has done a lot to ruin himself as he always gets roped into one thing yet has the love and talent to do something else. Upon taking the one thing he’s really good at to use, he would realize he has something to offer but also someone to share it with. The film’s screenplay doesn’t just play into the plight that John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) endures but also what he has to do to succeed in order to pay off his debts and marry his fiancee. Yet, he would have to flee his small hometown in order to do that where he’s joined by friend Pop Cardetti (Victor Moore) to New York City where they bump into a dancer/dance instructor in Penelope “Penny” Carroll (Ginger Rogers).

She is desperate to make it but needs the right partner as she is also linked to a renowned band leader in Ricardo Romero (Georges Metaxa). While the script does follow conventional aspects of romance and comedy, it does have something that is quite playful but also not wanting to take itself so seriously. Notably as the characters of Cardetti and Penny’s friend Mabel Anderson (Helen Broderick) provide some funny commentary as they deal with the chaos that is around them. Even as they become aware of the attraction between Lucky and Penny yet they would also deal with the fact that Lucky is engaged to someone else and they have a chance together to make it big.

George Stevens’ direction is definitely stylish for not just the musical numbers but also for the approach to comedy and drama. Though it is mostly shot on soundstages, the film does have moments outside of the soundstages as it play into bits of adventure where Stevens’ usage of wide and medium shots doesn’t just capture the scope of a location but also in some of the dance numbers. Aided by choreographer Hermes Pan, Stevens approach to staging the musical numbers doesn’t just have something that is intimate but also be presented to establish the movement and rhythm of the dance. Many of the numbers are presented in one entire take with crane and dolly-tracking shots as it shows the sense of gracefulness and beauty into the dancing which definitely help drive the story. The non-musical moments are just as potent as Stevens’ direction where he uses some nice medium shots and close-ups to capture the growing relationship between Lucky and Penny as it play into some of the dramatic conflict as find ways to use music to help express these emotions without needing to do too much. Overall, Stevens creates a majestic and intoxicating film about a man who teams up with a woman to pay off his debts through dance.

Cinematographer David Abel does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography for the way some of the daytime exteriors are shot with some unique lighting for some of the interiors including in the dance numbers. Editor Henry Berman does brilliant work with the editing as it help play into the rhythm of the dancing as well as some of the comedic moments. Art director Van Nest Polglase, with set/costume designer John W. Harkrider and gown designer Bernard Newman, does amazing work with the design of the dance studio Penny works at as well as the dance halls with Harkrider designing the sets for the film‘s climax with Newman creating the gorgeous gowns that Penny wears.

Sound recordist Hugh McDowell Jr. and sound editor George Marsh do superb work with the sound in the way some of the sound effects is presented as well as some of the comical moments in the film. The film’s music by Jerome Kern with songs co-written with lyricist Dorothy Fields is definitely a highlight of the film with Kern’s music presented with such lush and playful orchestration in the string arrangements while the songs definitely help tell the story with the big standout being The Way You Look Tonight as it is truly some of the finest music ever recorded.

The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Betty Furness as Lucky’s fiancee Margaret, Landers Stevens as Margaret’s father who doesn’t like Lucky, Eric Blore as Penny’s old boss Mr. Gordon, and Georges Metaxa in a superb as bandleader Ricardo Romero as this vain man who adores Penny yet is kind of full of himself. Helen Broderick is fantastic as Mabel Anderson as this secretary/friend of Penny who helps Penny and Lucky while being this witty observer who has good rapport with Pops. Victor Moore is excellent as Pop Cardetti as a friend of Lucky who tries to handle every aspect of business while being a great card cheat who can help Lucky win.

Finally, there’s the duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in incredible performances in their respective roles as John “Lucky” Garnett and Penelope “Penny” Carroll. Astaire has that sense of charm and comic timing in playing the hapless Astaire while Rogers is more straightforward yet is also funny as she is someone that is more determined. Astaire and Rogers together just have this electrifying chemistry that is just insatiable to watch as well as the way both sing and dance together as they both put on a clinic that makes them so fun to watch.

Swing Time is a spectacular and dazzling film from George Stevens that features sensational performances from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Along with great supporting performances from Victor Moore and Helen Broderick as well as top-notch dancing, amazing direction, and a phenomenal music soundtrack. The film is truly a musical that doesn’t just capture a sense of joy but it’s backed by an engaging story with characters that audiences can root for. In the end, Swing Time is a tremendous film from George Stevens.

George Stevens Films: (The Cohens and the Kellys in Trouble) - (Kentucky Kernals) - (Bachelor Bait) - (Laddie) - (The Nitwits) - (Alice Adams) - (Annie Oakley) - (Quality Street) - (A Damsel in Distress (1937 film)) - (Vivacious Lady) - (Gunga Din) - (Vigil in the Night) - (Penny Serenade) - (Woman of the Year) - (The Talk of the Town (1942 film)) - (The More the Merrier) - (That Justice Be Done) - (On Our Merry Way) - (I Remember Mama) - (A Place in the Sun) - (Something to Live For) - Shane - (Giant (1956 film)) - (The Diary of Anne Frank) - (The Greatest Story Ever Told) - (The Only Game in Town)

© thevoid99 2017

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies w/ Actors/Actresses Who Passed Away in 2016




For the third week of 2017 in the Thursday Movie Picks series hosted by Wanderer of Wandering Through the Shelves. We take a look at the previous year in the actors/actresses who sadly passed in the year that is best we don’t speak about. A year that was just horrible in a lot of ways considering how many cool people died last year. Here are my choices of films starring those who are no longer with us.

1. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds



This is the most obvious choice considering that both Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds had post left this great planet late last month and it still hurts. Fortunately, the documentary by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens that just premiered earlier this month showcases this beautiful relationship between mother and daughter. How can anyone not love these two together as there’s some little moments in the film that is to be enjoyed such as the fact that they live next door or how Debbie refuses to retire no matter how much her health is waning? It’s a must-see for fans of both of these women.

2. Over the Hedge



Garry Shandling is more known as a comedian and TV actor than films as he hasn’t really done a lot of great movies yet this animated film he’s in where he’s a turtle definitely features one of his most enjoyable performances. Especially as it’s got a very silly premise that is enjoyable for audiences of all ages about animals trying to cope that their forest had been cut in half in favor of suburbia where a renegade raccoon (Bruce Willis) helps them much to Shandling’s reluctance. It’s pretty funny with Shandling being a standout as it also includes a hilarious Steve Carrel as a hyperactive squirrel.

3. Truly, Madly, Deeply



When it comes to Alan Rickman, there’s a lot of films that come into mind whether it’s Die Hard, Sense & Sensibility, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Galaxy Quest, or the Harry Potter films. Yet, it’s the romantic-drama by Anthony Minghella co-starring Juliet Stevenson that is often overlooked. It’s the story of a woman coping with loss as she has difficulty moving on until she is visited by the ghost of her former lover, who is played by Rickman,. Rickman’s performance is key to the film as he is very comical and full of charm while also doing some amazing work on the cello.

There’s so many others in the world of entertainment that are no longer with us such as Michael Cimino, Abbas Kiarostami, Curtis Hanson, Prince, George Michael, and so many others. Yet, the biggest for me personally is David Bowie so I will close this part of the series with a hilarious cameo he gave in the film Yellowbeard:


© thevoid99 2017

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Zabriskie Point




Directed and co-edited by Michelangelo Antonioni and screenplay by Antonioni, Franco Rossetti (as Fred Gardner), Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe, and Sam Shepard from a story by Antonioni, Zabriskie Point is the story of a college dropout whose presence at a student protest has him go on the run to the Zabriskie Point desert where he meets a young woman on the way. Set against the American counterculture of the 1960s, the film is an exploration of identity and ideals as a young man and woman deal with their surroundings during a tumultuous period toward the end of the 1960s. Starring Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, and Rod Taylor. Zabriskie Point is a ravishing yet eerie film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

The film is a stylish and poetic telling about two different people who both go on different journeys where they meet on their way to their respective destinations as they visit Zabriskie Point near Death Valley. It’s a film that doesn’t really have much of a plot yet it is more about two people who are part of two different environments as they become overwhelmed by those surroundings. The film’s screenplay is very loose as it play into not just the world of the American counterculture as it becomes more desperate to fight back and go into revolutionary tactics but also the corporate world as it becomes more prominent in its rise while the counterculture is in the decline. The two protagonists in a college dropout named Mark (Mark Frechette) and an anthropology student named Daria (Daria Halprin) are both people part of different kind of scenes but it’s the former that has become dissatisfied.

The opening scene is set in a meeting where Mark realizes all of this talking about what to do has made him bored as he tries to make sense of what is going on. Especially when people he know are going to jail in protests and such while he is aware of what is emerging outside of the counterculture. When he finds himself in part of a scuffle with police as it goes all wrong, he escapes by stealing a small plane and fly around California. The character of Daria is more complex as she’s just a student who works part-time as a secretary for a corporate businessman (Rod Taylor) who is planning to create housing in some remote land in the American Southwest. Daria would drive to Phoenix as she would encounter strange things in her journey until she is met by Mark on his plane as the two would meet as the film then takes a different turn once they venture into the mysterious valley known as Zabriskie Point.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s direction is definitely mesmerizing not just visually but also in the way he aims for something that is unconventional in its American setting. Shot largely on location in Los Angeles and around Carefree, Arizona with scenes shot on location in Zabriskie Point, the film play into not just this sense of chaos that is looming into the counterculture where non-violent protests have given way to violence on both sides. Antonioni’s direction for these meetings and protests are presented in a somewhat documentary-like fashion as it display Mark’s own sense of alienation as he is aware of desperate the counterculture has become but also know what is emerging. Antonioni’s visual approach to display this emergence of capitalism and materialism through ads including a commercial about a real estate venture in the desert is very eerie as it relates to what would happen in American culture. Antonioni would often have ads in the background whereas a character such as Mark would be in the foreground. For Mark, it is overwhelming as his attempt to take part in a protest after being arrested for trying to bail out a friend gets him into trouble where he would steal a plane and fly around the American Southwest. Antonioni’s usage of wide shots allow him to take a great depth of field to showcase the Zabriskie Point valley at its most vast as it is centerpiece of the film’s second half.

Especially as it play into elements of fantasy of what Mark and Daria want in their idea of free love where it’s all about not worrying about the realities of the world. It is a sequence that is quite surreal but also contain some gorgeous imagery where Antonioni’s usage of close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots add so much to something that feels lose and free. Antonioni would include also include moments that are strange as it relates to the reality of America that Daria from her encounter with children at a town to eventually arriving at her destination. The latter which serves as its climax is set in this very quaint and posh environment that is beautiful but it’s also very suffocating. It would lead to an ending that is about that disdain of the growing sense of materialism and capitalism that would dominate the ideas of America. Overall, Antonioni creates an intoxicating yet startling portrait of alienation and the emergence of a more controlled and consumerist society in the waning days of the counterculture.

Cinematographer Alfio Contini does brilliant work with the film‘s very vibrant and colorful cinematography to capture some of the locations in and around Los Angeles to the look of the desert with its naturalistic and beautiful imagery as it is a major highlight of the film. Editors Michelangelo Antonioni and Franco Arcalli do excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and some stylish montages for the free-love sequence while aiming for moments that go on for a few minutes without the need to cut immediately. Production designer Dean Tavoularis and set decorator George R. Nelson do amazing work with the look of the posh resort home at the film‘s climax as well as the design of the offices and the diner that Darla goes to.

Costume designer Ray Summers does nice work with the costumes as it mostly casual with bits of stylish clothing that play into the world of the counterculture and Corporate America. Sound recording supervisor Franklin Milton does superb work with the sound as it play into the way the plane sounds in the air as well as the chaos in the protests and in city life to the more quiet world of Zabriskie Point. The film’s music soundtrack is incredible as it feature some original score music from Pink Floyd with its usage of progressive and post-psychedelic rock to the Americana-based rock of the Grateful Dead with a piece by Jerry Garcia. The rest of the soundtrack includes pieces from John Fahey, Kaleidoscope, the Youngbloods, the Rolling Stones, Patti Page, and Roscoe Holcomb that is a mixture of rock and country while the American release version of the film features a song by Roy Orbison that is an odd placement for the film‘s final credits as it was something MGM put in against Antonioni‘s wishes though the song is great but doesn‘t fit in with the context of the film.

The casting by Sally Dennison is fantastic as it features appearances from Harrison Ford as a student in jail, Philip Baker Hall as a deli owner, Bill Hickman as a gun store owner, Bill Garaway as Mark’s friend Morty, Paul Fix as a diner owner, Kathleen Cleaver as a secretary, G.D. Spradlin as an executive, Sam Shepard as one of the people in the free-love sequence, and Rod Taylor as Daria’s boss/possible lover Lee Allen who is trying to put some housing in the desert as he thinks it is the future of American living. Finally, there’s the duo of Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette in their respective roles as Daria and Mark as two individuals lost in their world as both of them are excellent as they’re not given much to do but be natural and react to the chaos their surroundings.

Zabriskie Point is a phenomenal film from Michelangelo Antonioni. Featuring dazzling visuals, a sprawling soundtrack, and eerie themes on alienation and changing times. It’s a film that is definitely confrontational in some respects but also tell a lot of truth about what would emerge in the aftermath of the counterculture and the fallacies of revolutions that was so prevalent in the 1960s. In the end, Zabriskie Point is a tremendous film from Michelangelo Antonioni.

Michelangelo Antonioni Films: (Story of a Love Affair) - (I Vinti) - (The Lady Without Camelias) - (Le Amiche) - (Il Grido) - L'Avventura - La Notte - L'eclisse - Red Desert - Blow-Up - (Chung Kuo, Cina) - The Passenger - (The Mystery of Oberwald) - (Identification of a Woman) - (Beyond the Clouds) - Eros: The Dangerous Thread of Things

© thevoid99 2017

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

La La Land




Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, La La Land is the story of an aspiring actress who moves to Los Angeles where she meets a jazz pianist as they fall in love while trying to find success together in Hollywood. The film is a mixture of fantasy and reality as it play into the hopes and dreams of two people trying to make it in the city of dreams. Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, and J.K. Simmons. La La Land is a ravishing and evocative film from Damien Chazelle.

Set in the city of dreams that is Los Angeles/Hollywood, the film is an exploration of two people trying to reach their dreams as they struggle to make it as they lean on each other unsure if they both can succeed. While it’s a story that is often common with many old-school ideas of Hollywood of people going there and wanting to be part of that world. It is told in a very stylistic fashion as it play into this conflict of fantasy and reality which would blend in some respects for its two central protagonists in the jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and the aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) as they both go through many trials and tribulations in their journey to find fame and happiness. Damien Chazelle’s screenplay is mainly told in the span of an entire year structured by season where it begins with winter as the two are first seen in a traffic jam with Sebastian having road rage.

The two would meet again later on as it would play into an element of fantasy but then reality would return as they wouldn’t see each other again until Mia attends a party where Sebastian is playing in an 80s cover band. The two would forge a friendship that eventually becomes a romantic relationship bonded by their wishes to succeed where Mia wants to become an actress and succeed while Sebastian is hoping to open a jazz club where more authentic jazz music is played. Yet, they also have to contend with some form of reality whether Mia has to go numerous audition and cope with failure and rejection while Sebastian is forced to face some truth about the world of jazz where his ideas of the music is becoming extinct. Once the story reaches towards summer and fall, that specter of reality would come more and more into play but there is still some glimmer of what both Sebastian and Mia want for themselves and each other.

Chazelle’s direction isn’t just stylish but also play against many of the conventional aspects of modern-day cinema in favor of something that is more traditionalist and harkening back to the cinema of the past. The film’s opening sequence and musical number is a great example of what Chazelle is going for. It is set in a traffic jam in Los Angeles which lead to people singing as the usage of wide and medium shots capture the scope of what is happening as it’s all done in one entire take with a tracking shot without the need to cut. Many of the musical numbers would be presented in that similar approach as it doesn’t just play against some of the elements of what the genre had become but also creating something that is more dream-like and with a sense of fantasy. Aiding Chazelle in the dancing and how the choreography would play into the story is choreographer Mandy Moore who would provide moments of dance that has a sense of movement that help establish what is going on where it can be dazzling and intricate or just simple and somber.

The non-musical moments are still just as vital not only in playing to the story but also have the sense of intimacy as it relate to the conflicts that Sebastian and Mia are both going through. Especially in the film’s second half where they don’t just encounter failure but also what people will do to be successful. One noted montage sequence of Mia trying to do something to kick-start her own career while Sebastian would do something as a way to survive would show two people who love and care for each other going into diverging paths. The film’s third act set in the fall would be a moment where it is about facing not just reality head-on but also see if there is some kind of hope that can emerge. Notably as Chazelle would create something that mixes fantasy and reality into a scene that is just powerful which would be followed a more dazzling sequence towards the end of the film as it play into hopes and dreams of those who want something so bad to succeed on their own terms. Overall, Chazelle creates a majestic yet enthralling film about two people trying to make it in the city of dreams.

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way he captures every ounce of color in some of the dance sequences in day and night as well as the way some of the jazz clubs and restaurants are lit along with the gorgeous scene inside and outside of the Griffith Observatory. Editor Tom Cross does brilliant work with the editing as it doesn‘t play by modern-day editing rules as it favors something that is straightforward with some stylish montages and rhythmic cutting that play into some of the music. Production designer David Wasco, with set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and art director Austin Gorg, does excellent work with the design of the apartment homes of Sebastian and Mia as well as some of places they go to as well as the jazz club that Sebastian likes to hang out and the movie theater they would visit one night.

Costume designer Mary Zophres does incredible work with the costumes from the design and gorgeous colors of the dresses that Mia and the women wear as well as the look of the clothes for some of the dancers in the film. Visual effects supervisors Chris LeDoux, Tim LeDoux, and John L. Weckworth do fantastic work with the visual effects such as the floating dance sequence inside the Griffith Observatory and other sequences that help play into this world of fantasy. Sound designer/editor Ai-Ling Lee and sound editor Mildred Iatrou do superb work with the sound in the way some of the live music is presented as well as some of the sparse elements in the sound to play into the non-musical moments.

The film’s music by Justin Hurwitz is phenomenal as its score is a mixture of jazz and orchestral music to play into that air of excitement but also the dramatic elements of the film. The songs also help as most of them are written by Hurwitz and the duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that help play into the situations and moods the characters are in while another original song written by Hurwitz, Marius de Vries, John Stephens, and Angelique Cinelu is a reflection of the kind of music that Sebastian doesn’t want to be a part of as the entire music score and soundtrack is a highlight of the film.

The casting by Deborah Aquila and Tricia Wood is terrific as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Josh Pence as a brother of Mia’s boyfriend early in the film, the trio of Callie Hernandez, Sonoya Mizuno, and Jessica Rothe as Mia’s roommates, Meagan Fay as Mia’s mother, Tom Everett Scott as a man named David who appears late in the film, Finn Wittrock as Mia’s boyfriend early in the film in Greg, and J.K. Simmons in a superb cameo appearance as a restaurant owner named Bill who wants Sebastian to play the music as it is. Rosemary DeWitt is excellent as Sebastian’s older sister Laura who tries to ensure her brother about the realities of the world but also hope that he can succeed. John Legend is brilliant as Sebastian’s old high school classmate Keith as a musician who leads a very popular and successful jazz-pop where he wants Sebastian to be a part of as a source of income.

Finally, there’s the duo of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is spectacular performances in their respective roles as Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan. Gosling brings that air of frustration and determination into someone who is an ardent traditionalist towards jazz as he tries to do whatever he can to survive no matter how humiliating it can be. Stone provides that humility to her own role as a young woman that is just trying to succeed through audition after audition while displaying that air of charm that is so intoxicating. Gosling and Stone together have this chemistry that is just riveting to watch from how they sing and dance with each other to the moments where they cope with their own failures and desire to succeed.

La La Land is an outstanding film from Damien Chazelle that features sensational performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Featuring beautiful visuals, an evocative music soundtrack, top-notch technical work, and a story that is definitely appealing in its conflict of reality and fantasy. It’s a film that doesn’t just create something that is entertaining enough for the audiences but offers a whole lot more about the dreams and hope of two people in the city of dreams. In the end, La La Land is a magnificent film from Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle Films: (Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) - Whiplash

© thevoid99 2017